Perfection doesn’t work in business

A few concepts are starting to dawn on me since I’ve stopped my business.

One of them is perfection – it isn’t always possible and it certainly isn’t necessary. Believe it or not, if you constantly strive for perfection you will never get anywhere, and you will waste so much time trying to attain it.

And even if you did manage to get there, who would notice? The majority of your clients or followers wouldn’t know perfection even if it hit them in the face! The only thing that does get noticed is when something is rubbish, of poor quality and not worth its value. Then the public start to complain, and all attention is drawn towards the mediocrity of the service or product.

Perfection is something that only comes to the fore when promoted with somebody with the right callibre to do so. Even so, it is still dependent on personal choice: what some people think is perfect may not be what others think, and if perfection relies on the masses to make an impression, then sometimes you have to give in and go with the flow.

Another side of perfection comes with practice, and when analysed you find that the majority of your perfection is attained in the first 80% of completing the task. The final 20% only achieves what you think is improvement, when probably it makes very little difference at all. By learning to let go, you will create material that certainly gains the right level suitable for your public without impairing your performance.

Nevertheless, this isn’t an excuse to not strive for perfection. After all, you will always want to do the best for your clients, and offer the best solution to their problems. But remember there isn’t enough hours in the day to create total perfection in your business, so offering something that is really close is the next best thing.

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Combine price and quality to attract customers

While visiting Nottingham we decided to go for a Chinese meal. Just down from our hotel was an restaurant called ‘Big Wok’, which looked enticing at £10 for all you could eat.

Now normally these ‘pile it high and sell it cheap’ establishments skimp on quality for the sake of price, but we were pleasantly surprised. For the nominal price you could go up several times with your plate to a buffet section in the middle of the restaurant to help yourself to a variety of well presented Chinese food. And that also included a ‘sweet’ section for afters.

So how did they make their money, being so cheap yet good quality? Well, they probably made a bit on the drinks, which were not included in the main price, and the place was absolutely buzzing, with all the tables occupied. We worked out that at least 200 people at £10 a head per weekday (and more at the weekends) would soon result in very respectable profits, certainly compared to other places that charged more but had less covers each night.

I had seen this phenomenon around the corner at a local restaurant chain which offered main courses for as little as £5, but then you knew they were making up for it on the drinks and other courses. They were also packed during prime hours, being a very popular haunt for taking the family out for Sunday lunch.

What’s the verdict on this? Can you afford to reduce your prices down during this economic downturn to get the punters in? If what you offer continues to be exceptional value, not tainted or reduced in quality to accommodate the cheaper prices, then you will maintain your status and keep your clientelle who will stand by and support you, and will still be there once everything starts to improve.

Both these businesses are working on their customers’ greed, understanding the state of their wallets, and providing a solution which is plentiful food at very good prices in convenient surroundings at suitable times.

Now – can your company adapt to this mind-set? Hmmm, not all of us are in such a position to accommodate this practice, but we can all be aware that offering a few good quality products at low prices can act as a lost-leader towards gaining more in up-selling or by increasing the ‘bums on seats’ capacity. Both seem to win in the end.

Give Arts in Action a Bucks: Waddesdon Manor

logo150x105If you’re mad about the arts, then got to this event called MAD (which stands for Music, Arts and Dance) which is happening this weekend (27 & 28 June) at Waddesdon Manor near Oxford (UK). For more details, click on the MAD logo on the left.

Bring the family to experience the talent, energy and creativity of Buckinghamshire’s schools and community, through music, dance, drama, poetry, story telling, film, photography and much more (if that isn’t already enough), all in the wonderful grounds of Waddesdon Manor.

The idea of this weekend was to form closer working relationships with local, multicultural community by using Waddesdon Manor as a suitable cultural resource. Multicultural events such as African and Japanese drumming, samba workshops, photography competititions, collaborative art projects, conducting workshops, urban dance, ballet, digital art and music & drama performances of all kinds will be happening, so there is always something for all ages and interests.

The Stables have been transformed into a lively performance and education space, in response to the ‘Find Your Talent’ and ‘Creative Partnerships’ schemes promoted by the government, and indeed these initiatives are fully acknowledged by the Department of Media, Culture and Sport and the Department of Children, Schools and Families, as a chance to enable young people and schools to experience high quality arts and culture with creative professionals, artists, writers and actors.

MAD has been a major local cultural event since 2006, and last year 15,000 people thoroughly enjoyed themselves watching over 3,000 children perform in various events, workshops, projects and many other activities during the weekend.  Partnerships with such emiment establishments as The English National Ballet, Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Art, Bucks New University and many others have been the key to the success of the festival, and the organisers hope for their continued support in the future.

Don’t assume your audience can mindread

Reading through my son’s school newsletter, which is full of the headteacher crowing about the school’s achievements, one particular entry had us totally perplexed. It was quite a full but garbled account of the school getting to the finals and what a hard time the boys had getting there.  Great, but did they win? And what sport or event was it?

These two rather important items of information were completely omitted from the report.  Remember to be very clear with all the information from the beginning, including the date, subject, full names of those involved, any particular details associated with them, as well as the outcome with all flags flying.  You may be involved with the incident, but your audience isn’t, so unless you explain everything in detail, they will be unable to share your success with you.

A BBC Experience

My good friend Cheryl asked me to accompany her to take part in a BBC Radio Berkshire broadcast with her. Apparantly ‘strong’ women were requested to answer a few difficult questions in a lunchtime programme. This sounded a bit unnerving, but I felt that a chance to publicise my business to a potential audience for free should not be passed over, so I agreed.

The questions themselves were probing: What is the rudest thing anyone has done to you? Have you ever broken a confidence? What is your most used excuse? This was a little worrying, I didn’t want to paint myself into a bad light, but neither did I want to seem naive or weak.

The trouble is, my name, Alice, means honesty and truth, and I try to adhere to this as much as possible. This has, of course, got me into trouble now and again, as there are so many unscrupulous people out there who can spot an honest person from miles away and rise to the challenge! Being ‘streetwise’ or business aware can help prevent this, as can gaining experience and learning from your mistakes. Listening to people, absorbing their knowledge, retaining necessary information and then implementing it for your own purposes to further your own ideals.

Anyway, once inside the BBC premises I had a chance to learn more about business. Learning from successful organisations and studying what it is that makes them so is a great way of improving your own. Take their logo, for example. It’s clean, crisp and simple, authoritative and fashionable, using their own font and colours which can be adapted accordingly. Having total recognition helps, of course, but I often think a logo should explain what it does without the viewer having to work too hard to understand it. And this is also reflected in the way the corporation works too, providing a professional approach that is recognised throughout the world and sets it apart from its competitors.

And why can’t this concept should be used in your business too? I believe clear, concise and uncluttered design can maximise the potential of publicising your organisation. Sometimes the most simplest of ideas are the most effective, eliminating red herrings, eradicating confusion, and cleansing the background to bring out what is most important. Let simplicity and clarity (and honesty) shine through!

Alice

Contracts and Con-Artists

The other week I had a bad experience with a customer who refused to pay his bill.

Even though the episode left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, the best thing was to view it as a lesson. The answer is to be totally covered on your side, otherwise there is no chance (or limited chance) of redress.

First, trust your gut reaction. I had a bad feeling from the beginning; I was suspicious that it needed to be done by the end of the week, and then there was the distinct lack of information as to exactly what was wanted. I drove out to Henley to meet them to find out more details, and even then it was still vague and unhelpful – I know that people have trouble in describing what they really want, but when you’re greeted with a dismissive grunt from one and distracted ideas from another, what is a girl to do?

Second, get concrete details from the beginning, in writing, preferably on a contract of agreement. This I failed to do, just relying on my written notes taken at the first meeting. The whole project was a ‘rush job’, with the deadline within six days. This means I would have to work over the weekend, which I am willing to do if necessary.

What I gathered that was needed was: high-class invitations in an art deco style on very good quality paper rolled up and secured with a flower clasp, and tickets on thick card with a specially designed bar code and the back in black with the nightclub’s flower logo placed centrally.

But one thing was not made clear to me – the flower clasp should be made of A REAL FLOWER and secured with a gold pin! (Hang on, I’m a designer, not a florist! When a client mentions a flower clasp, I presume it’s made of card or paper, not organic matter! And wouldn’t the flower rip with the gold pin and wilt over the weekend?)

As the week progressed the demands varied to include corks placed inside each end of the invitation (luckily this couldn’t be sourced in the timespan available) to sealing each invitation flap in wax above and below the flower clasp (this would have taken a further six hours to do, especially without an appropriate seal). I persuaded them to abandon these ideas.

Third, get your customer to accept and sign a contract of agreement, so that all parties understand what is expected of each other for the project concerned. If a deposit is required to cover any production costs, this should be paid before work should continue.

I didn’t do any of these things because of the timeframe. But I did email proofs of the design to them and personally deliver a mock-up of the invitation and ticket so that they had an idea of what would be produced.

The delay caused by their disinterest in replying to my emailed proofs meant that the deadline was extended by a further three days. Without an advance deposit I got the invitations and tickets printed and spent another weekend preparing them. They were delivered by hand on the Monday to an empty nightclub with only bemused cleaning staff to let me in, in spite of a pre-arranged time for collection.

I received a phone call a few hours later to say that no payment would be forthcoming because the products were totally unacceptable. The quality of the printing was inexcusable, the paper and card were of extremely bad quality and not what they were expecting, and the flower clasps were not real flowers (the first time I had heard of that requirement).

As far as I was concerned, the paper was the best quality I could source that would roll up tightly without becoming creased or split, and the card (at 350gsm) was as thick as could be produced without incurring higher printing costs. And as for the flower clasps… (!?!*@%)

Without any contract of agreement, and only an invoice as my paperwork, I was on dicey ground. They were big men and there was only little me. Another thing – I was so upset I failed to collect my work from them immediately. I subsequently heard on the grapevine that some of my tickets were in circulation in spite of me not being paid. I phoned up the nightclub owners who were emphatic that the invites and tickets had been put in the bin. When I then said I was coming over to collect my work, they changed their tune and said my work would be ready to collect (when they had said only minutes earlier that it had been destroyed). When I collected them it was obvious that all the tickets were not present.

If anybody out there can provide me with some help as to what to do next, I would be very grateful. Business Link have been extremely helpful, but their advised me that because of my lack of paperwork, and the nature of these nightclub managers, it would be difficult to get my invoice paid, and taking this matter to the small claims court might be expensive for me without any guarantee of success.

Please contact me through my website: http://www.alice-designs.co.uk, or through this blog. I look forward to hearing from you.

Alice